Tuesday, August 27, 2013

In Brief #6: Totally Tired in the Dark at the Summer House in Blood Plaza


An eclectic bunch here of various releases that have made an impression these past months...

John Swana, David Lackner, Mark Price - Smooth End of Summer [Galtta]

I'm really feeling this tape by the new (I think) trio of John Swana, David Lackner and Mark Price. Swana and Lackner have worked together plenty but I don't recall Price's presence on their previous works. Maybe I'm wrong, I'm a forgetful man. Anyhow, Smooth End of Summer is a really nice slab of space jazz--emphasis on the space.
The first full piece "Shades on Shades" introduces itself with a clattering hip hop beat but gives way to relaxed scales by a robo-Coltrane on muscle relaxers. Swana sticks mainly to his signature EVI, while Lackner handles saxophone and drum machine duties. The aforementioned new presence in Price contributes work on sampler and MIDI keyboard. It seems like Price is an important cog in this machine, take "Loner Tan" for instance, one of the most appealing traits is this thick electric mist pervading everything. Maybe its actually the EVI and I'm mis-attributing it but whatever it is, it sounds great. Sprinkled among the longer tracks are some great little interludes and short pieces. I wish the mere fragment of "Calm Palm"--18 seconds of gangly tribal drums--had been extended into a full piece--though considering they drop the track on both sides of the tape, the trio obviously knows it has value. The one minute "Seltzers Around" makes for a perfect transition between longer pieces as well. Among the longer pieces, the finale "Hot Noon/Avocado Shadow" must be my favorite as it leads you down the center of a dense whirlwind, then in the middle of the track the clouds part temporarily bringing into focus a great trip hoppy breakdown with a surprisingly infectious keyboard lick. This concludes the "Hot Noon" portion transmitting no omen of the demented melodies that will follow. "Avocado Shadow"... I'm not sure what's going on here, synthesized puppy barks, off-balance drum programming and more all in service of something I don't fully understand but I know is fully awesome. What a way to go out.
This is perhaps my favorite thing to arrive off the Galtta assembly line yet. Check it out here


Good Stuff House - Untitled [Indian Queen/Holodeck]
A recently discovered pleasure of mine is Satyajit Ray's The Music Room. It's a 1950s Indian film about a faded aristocrat sinking every last rupee of his dwindling fortune into his one true pleasure--inviting musicians to play for him in his "music room"--while his estate falls into ruin. Maybe I'm just in a raga state of mind but this LP by the trio of Scott Tuma, Matt Christensen (Zelienople) and Mike Weis (Kwaidan, also Zelienople) is sounding really good. This record with no name has been rescued from limited-run CD-r obscurity by the good folks at Indian Queen as well as Holodeck who has reissued it on cassette. Originally released on Time-Lag back in the heyday of this Appalachian raga sound (think GHQ etc.)
The opening piece is still probably my favorite, the trio employing a hypnotic banjo melody, jagged zither strums and a sitar-y instrument of an unknown origin (bowed electric guitar?) making the air extra smoky. The track sounds, at once, like a frantic jig but also like its flowing in slow motion before blurring into a haze of warbling piano strikes and drawn out whistled tones. It's hard to pick out specific tracks as this feels very much of a piece--probably a good guess why nothing is titled aside from the ambiguous Good Stuff House moniker. That said, the fifth piece may be the hypnotic epitome of the record, locking into a mesmerizing zone almost instantly--three notes and hand drums become the truth. The whole record is drenched in atmosphere with a rare vitality and warmth that's easy to get lost in. This record turns an ordinary room into your own personal "music room."
Absolutely a lovely piece of work, certainly worth the change. You can nab the LP here and, if you're into portability, the cassette is for sale here.


Kwaidan - Make All the Hell of Dark Metal Bright [Bathetic]
Speaking of Kwaidan, they have a recent release on Bathetic called Make All the Hell of Dark Metal Bright. Despite the title there's no metal to be found here. The trio of Andre Foisy (guitar/moog/piano), Neil Jendon (synths) and Mike Weis (percussion) concoct an interesting mixture of drones, rhythms and melodies. The record is placid in nature yet always teeming with energy. For instance on "Gateless Gate," Weis contributes steady, syncopated thumps that would drive a dancefloor in the context of another band but here cement themselves as a key support to the piece's minimalist architecture.
For the most part the record does not prove be as ominous as its cover (or title) suggest but things get pretty gnarly on "The Iceberg and its Shadow" which can hold its own with the iciest of John Carpenter themes. Foisy uses his chops honed in Locrian plucking out a simple piano melody dripping with dread while Jendon slowly swirls supernatural synthesizers around it like a fine fog (or poison gas.) My only complaint is the track is way too short, even at 3 minutes its not long enough. Seriously, I kinda have to recommend the record if only for this unassuming monster. But that's only the highlight of an album that's fucking solid through and through. Own this poison pen letter here


Back Magic - Blood Plaza [Pilgrim Talk]
Basement scuzz jams from this brotherly duo. The first side of this CD-sized 5" lathe cut features two takes of the title track, a straight ahead rocker. You can check it out below. I doubt it's intentional but there are a couple rad locked grooves on the first side of my copy. The first side is not the reason to buy this however, that would be the b-side. "Cough Syrup Buzz" is fucking awesome! Seriously fantastic punk track, monstrously catchy riff, bitchin' palm mutes and devil may care attitude to spare. Absolutely killer to a ridiculous degree! I hope this track makes it on to a more widely available release, it should be heard! Classic!
For the time being though, you can nab the limited lathe here. I do have to say that lathe cut is probably the perfect format for the rugged hairiness of the Back Magic sound.



Mavo - Mavo [Fixture]
Last year I had a lot of complimentary things to say about a pair of 7 inches from Montreal's Fixture Records. This debut by Montreal-based Mavo makes good on the promise those earlier records gave. The trio's sound is really jangly and "classic." Very much in the vein of 80s independent pop. The two tracks on the first side, "Mock My Accent" and "Horrible Brit Pop Haircut" are quite nice. The former is a little more innocuous than the funny title suggests and its second half drizzles on some extra fuzz--kinda like if all those New Zealander pop bands played their guitars like The Dead C did. The latter track is particularly fun as it features the Japanese-born singer/songwriter singing in a mock Brit-pop accent over jangling chords, organ keys and rattling tambourine.
The real gem of the single is the lone B-side track, "Totally Tired." (Not sure why it didn't end up as the A-side--I would have swapped it with "Mock My Accent" on the track order but no matter.) Making lyrical references to both The Fall (obviously) and Velvet Underground, it also proves to be the catchiest tune on the record. Thumping drums right out of the Lou Reed/Mark E. Smith playbook propel the track along with a wordless two note refrain sealing the deal. Nice!! Grab the record here.


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

In Brief #5: Late for Class

Sorry for the tardiness of this post, it somehow got stuck in 'draft mode' or something for a while. So if any jokes seem a slight bit dated or the links are not au courant you will know why. Silly me for trusting the internet...
Before we get into the post I want to give a shout out to Cassettivity, a recently minted cassette-only distro! (Tape power!) While it's true that pretty much any cassette-centric distro will get my support, the founder, Dave Sandifer, has done some really fresh things with his site including my favorite feature "play random stream." You can just click it on while browsing and sample all the tapes carried by the site, it's like a Pandora for weirdos! Plus, it's an easy way to check out artists and labels you've never heard of. The site also has a feature that makes me chuckle called "sort by ease of listening" ha! There's also plenty more that's cool about the endeavor, you can tell Sandifer put a lot of sweat (and brains) into the operation and he's come up with something very innovative. Follow that link and give it a look. Now's all we need is a Cassette Pride Parade!

German Army - Holland Village [Dub Ditch Picnic]
German Army - Sedentary [Hobo Cult]
German Army - Tarsier [Nute]
The GA continue their travails around the world, conquering every country in their path (and securing a highly coveted spot on the AO year-end thing.) Having already made mincemeat of the US and Denmark, not to mention the UK, the Army has since set its sights on Canada (Dub Ditch Picnic,) French Canada (Hobo Cult) and Ireland (Nute) emerging victorious once again.
I fucking love this band. 
My favorite of the three, Holland Village, on Dub Ditch Picnic is fortunately still available to get yr mitts on. "Colony" is a surprisingly mellow and friendly first step but things quickly get hoppin' on "Abbasid Golden Age." A favorite of mine, the drum machine really thumps along with a great two-note melody/counter-melody combo. Rather than live vocals, the GA slice up some samples to construct quasi-dual vocalists while the beat just builds and builds. The "proper" vocalist shows up on "Fetal Change" in his signature disaffected style with a thick, chugging loop of junk, halfway between Suicide and DJ Primo, backing him up. Groove monster for sure. "Eyes in Front" is another slammer, really working the two-note bass throb with a super-fuzzed unidentifiable lead "instrument" at the tail end that I really dig. "Sultan Skin" shows up practically club-ready, a creepy club but no matter. A synth snare rat-a-tat-tats loudly from a distant corner of the room amid a brooding molasses-mix of synthesizers and a sharp point melody. "Harem Diseases" on the other hand shows up, sequencer in hand, ready to rock. Vocals via sample hiss over pre-programmed bass lines and beats for a new "techno" look from the crew. An instant standout, "Deep Wall" features an infectious sample that sounds Turkish perhaps? It's a brief sample and my ethnomusicological identifiers have gotten rusty but that's the vibe I'm getting. The closer, "Holocene Epic" brings back the sequencer in aggressive fashion merging the relentless beats with their sampling techniques and cheap keyboards. Holland Village shows the GA forging some new territory within their well-defined bleary-eyed, dub-fried corner of the sandbox. Nice stuff!
Sedentary announces itself with echoing percussive taps and a sampled musical phrase. Shuffling along, swimming through muck, German Army come up for air on "Two Dogs" with an actually beautiful keyboard melody and follow it up with a repeated guitar melody on "Babylon." Has the German Army gone soft? What is this friendly consonance I am hearing?! Fear not GAcolytes 'twas nothing but a bout of temporary sanity--the ol'boys have not lost their edge. "Love on Loaf" really rolls with an infectious rhythm pushed hard upfront dominating over shards of harmonica and vocal murmuring. As you might imagine, GA gets dubbed out on "Kingston Brass," an easily consumable intoxicant. Oh shit though, cause "Pulling Lashes" brings you down hard. Totally discomforting, trudging through unintelligible, yet still depressing, lyrics with a quiet but oh-so-effective forlorn horn yearning deep in the mix. This is the dark side of dub, the feel-bad hit of the season. Love it. "Turkish Bath" follows it up with a lethargic swirl of synthesized horns and a looped guitar arpeggio.
Tarsier, released by Trensmat's cassette subsidiary Nute, may be the most sloshed of the German Army tapes I've heard--now that is really saying something. The sounds seem like their bubbling up in a vat of goo rather than simply emanating from amplifiers. The tape mostly eschews the pop formats engaged in on other tapes instead diving deeper down the rabbit hole of electronically-farmed gunk. One of the album's rare identifiable 'songs' "Human Limbs" thumps like a Suicide military anthem underneath disinterested vocals while "Miles Davis Catalog" buries an infectious synth-funk bass line deep under radio static and a smattering of electronic percussive hits. "Ely" sounds like a voodoo-infused poetry reading in your intestines, what the fuck is this? "Ox Cart" balances tribal drums, foreign guitar pop and skewed samples from musicals on a knife's edge. As a bonus finale, Whirling Hall of Knives distills the preceding half-hour into a 10-minute "reconstruction" which to me sort of sounds like German Army with a fistful of uppers in 'em.




Brian Green - Milltown [A Giant Fern]
Headquartered in Portugal, Carlos Costa is always doing something interesting with his A Giant Fern imprint. Bringing heavy duty psych burners, unusual bedroom pop concoctions, icy drones and complex, environmental avant-sound-constructions in equal measure, Costa is a real renaissance man. (he's even helping the aforementioned Germany Army plan an upcoming hostile takeover of Portugal.)
Milltown recalls the excellent and underhyped Kakukanakina tape released in 2011 by A Giant Fern (which is surprisingly still available.) Brian Green's tape was inspired by--and created from recordings of--an old South Carolinian textile mill. As one might expect, it sounds very environmental, a sonic tour of sorts of the dilapidated mill. It certainly sounds dank and rotting as you drift threw it, clanking, crunching and burbling all along the way. Green does do some delay fiddling and creates some smoother drones as a base to guide you along, while working with the raw field recordings to provide a percussive element. A little bit one-note but certainly an enveloping experience. For true fans of the soundscape. Nab it here
You can take a video tour of the mill here


Hare Akedod - Gripgevest & Kling [Hare Akedod]
Kicking things off with some unexpected scrape and clang, this improvisatory duo--David Edren (synthesizer and electric guitar) and Bent von Bent (no way that's a real name!) on flutes, acoustic guitar, zither and the vaguely described "voice effects"--smooth things out quickly. Hailing from Antwerp(en) Belgium, these guys bring the weirdness as their cassette-armed forefathers did a few years ago when Antwerp seemed to be the weird music export capital of the world. A little reminiscent of a pared down Silvester Anfang, Edren and von Bent build a surprisingly full spectrum of sound for two people while still feeling unmistakably "live." This stuff is hard to pin down because there is usually no discernible structure yet it doesn't feel decidedly "non-musical" as many improv'd drone-type acts do. Melodies will just suddenly appear and alter the dynamic without diminishing the atmosphere which seems to be the overall aim of the project. Perhaps my favorite moment on the tape is the latter half of "Ondergronds Geduld" where a gentle, swelling melody materializes for the final minutes bringing the entire side to a satisfying conclusion. After getting a touch raga-ey on "Sermoenstonde," the duo brings a lot of chilly synthesizer to the party on another highlight "Polykrill" which would not have been out of place in some late 70s European art-horror movie. The extended finale "Graafarde," despite being 10 minutes in length, actually feels the most focused and structured of all, settling into a fertile bed of synth tones. This is a really nice outing by these guys, showing a lot of growth since debuting with the first release on the label last year. There's a ton to like here. Grab it here


Sunday, June 2, 2013

Troller - Troller [Holodeck/Light Lodge]

It has been exactly one year since I originally posted this review. Frankly, I was blindsided when I first heard this. Troller was once an awesome tape, then became an awesome LP and, on June 4th, Holodeck is rolling out a 2nd LP pressing after the first flew off the shelves earlier this year. If it's more your fancy, Handmade Birds is dropping a proper CD a week later as well. It's not often that one gets so many chances to own a small-press masterpiece. If you don't have this record, get it. I'm not fucking around.
This is one bad ass little tape right here, one that's been hogging a lot of decktime since I first received it. Looking at the cover of this cassette, I don't blame you for thinking that this sounds like some weirdo Finnish metal band. That's what I would have thought if I hadn't read the press release. However, Troller is a trio from Austin, TX and the sound of the album is somewhere between mainstream synth-scores of the 70s and 80s from the likes of Pino Donaggio, Giorgio Moroder, Jack Nitzche etc. and the recent wave of icy disco acts like Chromatics or Glass Candy and that sort of ilk. Though Troller has just a slightly darker viewpoint.
Just about every sound on this tape sounds like it could be (should be? will be? is?) in a movie. I don't just mean the instrumental or ambient passages; the songs themselves sound like they should be soundtracking montages of important shit unfolding. As a huge cinema fan, I mean this as a great compliment.
One wise choice that achieves this result is that the vocals are directed to become part of the ether. They stake out their territory and certainly have their impact but they aren't necessarily the focal point as is usually the case in song-based material. This makes for a hellishly heady listening experience.
The opener "Milk" isn't the strongest composition on the tape, but it's the right choice to start things off. It establishes the mood of the tape instantly. That mood is seductive dread; this is some enticing black widow shit that can be none too good for your soul. A sinister synth bass line anchors the track which somehow manages to be slinky and looming. They unleash synthetic ghouls and ghosts in a disconcerting cacophony and sprinkle in a little trip hop seasoning for flavor.
Talk about attention grabbers, when "Tiger" entranced my speakers for the first time, I dropped everything--I was literally spellbound. Blogging is a quite egotistical endeavor, there's no discussion, no average user rating, no academic distance, not even an arbitrary grading scale to share with and compare to other writers. I think something's great simply because I think something's great. And I think this song is great. The song does everything I want it to do and goes everywhere I want it to go. From the nostalgic and chilling introductory synth line to the propulsive drum programming at the chorus to the extended bridge/synth solo near the end; every move "Tiger" makes satisfies my needs and desires to the tee. It's impeccably composed with an incredibly evocative emotional heft; the portal into a transcendent new world. Utterly perfect. I can't get enough. (Feel free to disagree with me, the song is embedded below, but I dare you to not be captivated. Good luck with your new addiction.)
Troller generates ambient interludes between the six songs on the tape and the interlude after "Tiger" is surprisingly friendly, foggy electronic burble. The interludes were a great choice because you are never permitted to exit the world of the cassette. Each song is only a movement in a grander piece.
"Best" is another great one. The track sort of twists and winds, writhing with tendrils tensed. It's structure and melodies are hard to put your thumb on it, it seems to continually worm its way just out of your grasp but you continue to follow anyway. It's a strange but potent composition. And oh man, "Thirst" is so bad ass. Deep fuzzy bass, eerily woozy synthetic chimes/voices and the relentless ratatat of a programmed hi-hat. It's reminiscent of earlier John Carpenter scores but significantly more lush. So great yet so unsettling. You can't take your ears off it.
On "Winter," Troller edges just slightly more into pop territory, mainly because they lift the fog a bit and create a less foreboding environment. More notably, the vocalist unleashes her pipes, making for a few moments of lovely catharsis that arrive at the precise point the album calls for it. It's a glorious and beautiful track. The following interlude takes you back down into the dank, swampy depths prepping you for the closer "Peace Dream." Coming full circle, the finale features a similar vibe to the opener "Milk," this track is more propulsive though. An uneasy bass-synth riff churns and churns until a beautiful bridge floods the track with a little light. Man, the vocalist really earns her keep on this one as well, she nails a series of perfect melodic counterpoints, playing off her heavily synthetic surroundings and imbuing the track with so many emotions. It's a great note to go out on.
This record is phenomenal; as far as I can tell this is their first/only release which is ridiculous because everything is so well-executed from the production to the performance to the composition of the material. There are very few flaws which is staggering. It's mind-boggling to think how good their next record could be. This is simply one of the best tapes I've heard this year and I think "Tiger" has to be my favorite song so far, I can't think of something that surpasses it right now.
Holodeck has also slated Troller to drop on vinyl sometime in the future, which is a good thing as there's no way a hundred copies will satiate everyone's appetite. For the time being though, the cassettes are available now and I see no reason why anyone should sleep on this.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

In Brief #4: It's Been a Long Time Comin'...

Been forever since I've gotten a post finished and there's been so much bangin' shit showing up in my mailbox that I'm just gonna take care of things 12-gauge double-barrel buckshot style.

Ecstatic Cosmic Union - XCU [Eiderdown]
Planets Around the Sun - Cosmic Job [Eiderdown]
Datashock - LiveLoveData$ [Eiderdown] 
Jon Collin - The Great Stink [Eiderdown]
Seattle label, Eiderdown Records, must be commended for a very thorough, and surprisingly quick, development and definition of its aesthetic. After only an LP and six tapes, it's become very easy to spot an Eiderdown release. The sounds possessed within their earthly formats all fit pretty nicely together too. Eiderdown always likes to get psychedelic but does so in a variety of ways. Among the pleasant surprises in the most recent set of tapes is Ecstatic Cosmic Union--or XCU--a Seattle crew that has recently crawled out of the woodwork. Pumping out slightly dubby psych-funk grooves, this might be my favorite spooler of the batch. Live congas, spaced synths zipping about and filtered guitar smoke make this some seriously stellar shit, all captured with the warmth of a 4-track. The duo really gets things rippin' on "Skarab's Bones" the perfect soundtrack for a midnight spacecraft ride. This thing has some serious hit potential, can't stop this groove! Get blissed, get tranced, get groovin'.
On Cosmic Job, Planets Around the Sun offer up a side-long slow burner "Cock and Balls" first but really get to work on the flipside with "Bump Tongues." The drummer keeps things steadily thumpin' amid the sloshed vox and free flowing wah-fest. Straight up minimal psych groove. No frills, no problem. That track is the best distillation of the Planets Around the Sun vibe but they soldier on with a guitar only interlude and bring back the drums for a final go round.
Datashock get freaky with their pan-audio septet thing on "Into the Abyss." Gorgeous synth movements, slightly creepy wordless female humming, distant clangs and chimes, trippy rubber duck exhortations (no joke)... What am I supposed to call this stuff? Doesn't matter I suppose as long as we all just LiveLoveData$. Out of the abyss comes percussion giving the piece an instant structure--albeit a very leisurely one. A wandering fiddle joins up and the crew really starts feeling the vibes.
These guys know what they are doing. Seamless transition from weirdo forest zones to full-on psych blues stomp? Not so easy but the great Data$ totally NAIL it. The flip is called "Noch Ein Bisschen Erbs'" and, though I'm partial to the first side, it's probably just as good. Synth bubbles mingle with violin and backwards guitar before the drum kits get rockin'.
On the final tape, Jon Collin offers a set of minimal guitar pieces with the appetizing title of The Great Stink. The six-string woozefest is populated by coughs, power tools and other incidental noises among the twist and twirl of guitar strings. The first piece, recorded in Sweden, is a bit more coarse than the rest, featuring Collin on acoustic guitar, wandering through the pines and ending with a mild take on Bill Orcutt's guitar rough-ups. The next three pieces feature Collin on electric guitar with varying levels of distortion, be it the smooth and drippy "Snake Road" or the wave of fuzz on "The Lark in the Morning." Collin really stretches his limbs--and goes all mental patient on us once or twice--on "Furniture Makers Medley" which unfurls over the entire second side.
All tape covers are beautifully screen-printed by A Crenshaw at Broken Press--continuing to keep Eiderdown's packaging aesthetic uniformly excellent across all releases. The other element that I must praise: none of these tapes run too long, a common symptom of psychedelic music. Thank you for the editorial third eye!

Adderall Canyonly - From Below We Reach Above [Tranquility Tapes]
Adderall Canyonly - Excelsius Minor [Rubber City Noise]
I've heard a pair of recent Adderall Canyonly cassettes, From Below We Reach Above and Excelsius Minor and damn, gotta say I'm impressed. (Not that I haven't said that before) These two tapes definitely show a different direction for the project, one that may just transcend its goofball moniker. Previously, AC sort of worked as the house band for the Field Hymns label, ready to start a party at a moment's notice. However, gone are the fizzy synths and bubbly beats, someone left a window open and these releases are suitably drafty. Every once in a while I was reminded of the chillier bits of Vangelis's Chariots of Fire score, maybe a slight intimation of Carpenter here and there. Really though, what I like about this stuff is that you never catch more than a brief whiff of the influences at work. I don't mean to say that these are entirely "original" (whatever that means) but that all reference points have been seamlessly integrated into a new fabric. "Song for a Broken Rhodes" off of Excelsius Minor is a piece that caught my attention instantly and easily nudged itself into the group of elite Adderall Canyonly compositions, a modest little epic that vaguely reminded me of early GY!BE and even Alexandre Desplat's recent work on Zero Dark Thirty.
All the work across both these tapes exhibits oodles of restraint, making each sound and every layer pull its weight. From Below We Reach Above is certainly befitting of the Tranquility Tapes namesake, though you're never allowed to get too comfortable. In contrast, Excelsius Minor has a bit of a Gothic, procession-like feel to it. Both are pretty excellent and amount to some of the finest work I've heard from this guy.
You're attention please, Mr. Canyonly has something to say.



Survive - HDXV [Holodeck]
Thousand Foot Whale Claw - Dope Moons Volume One [Holodeck]
JU4N - Vaporware [Holodeck]
Sungod - Contackt [Holodeck]
Dylan C - Samsara [Holodeck]
Smokey Emery - Soundtracks for Invisibility Vol. II [Holodeck]
Man, if Austin, TX's Holodeck Records kills it with any more releases, it'll technically be a spree. So, yeah, these guys were responsible for dropping this little thing called Troller that I couldn't get enough of (or say enough about.) And then now we have HDXV and Dope Moons Volume One, my newest Holodeck obsessions. This doesn't even include that other Survive tape. Or the Amasa Gana one. Or that M. Geddes Gengras tape. Or the... well you get the idea.
The techno successor to that Troller masterpiece (in spirit anyway,) Survive issues a heady slab of programmatic composition. Complexly (and expertly) designed and brimming with melodies, where do I start? I guess I could say "Hourglass" is the fucking jam, but that may draw focus away from the whole album which is chock full of gems. I guess I could start listing influences: John Carpenter, Adult.'s neo-Suicide grime-grooves, Tangerine Dream a la Thief... nah. You know what, I'm not even gonna try to get into it because you should listen to the goddam thing. Don't take my word for it, just go here and listen to it and then buy the tape cause it sounds so much sweeter in fully analog fashion. This Survive dude is totally entitled to one of those tiger blood-fueled Charlie Sheen "winning" moments, but he won't partake cause he ain't one to brag. He's satisfied with merely blowing (out) minds.
Alright now after that head expansion, you got these bastards who call themselves Thousand Foot Whale Claw up next. What kind of band is this? I was under the impression given by their last tape that this was a drone band. And judging by the first and last track that's pretty right-on, but then again in the middle they shift gears into a full-fledged techno band. These guys are like a one-cut running back, they see the hole and decisively blast through. Once they hit the groove, they ride it to the end zone. Good Lord, that "tambourine" on "Ganymede," if I had friends this is what I'd put on at a party, instead I just put it on, clean the apartment and GET SHIT DONE. 1000ftWC got no time to fuck around and neither do I!
Vaporware by JU4N is the perfect comedown from the delirious heights of HDXV and Dope Moons Volume One; employing the same principles of those too but in a much more breezy, effervescent fashion. "Last Night in Cyberia" is certainly a high point, setting forth a fragmentary but oh-so-comforting sound collage.
Those first two tapes are pretty much essential for people who like music. That JU4N ain't a bad chaser either, making them a hell of a hydra altogether. They all make you feel so good, and each in a little different way.
It kinda seems unfair that Holodeck has cornered the market on "awesome synthesizer shit" this fast.
Elsewhere in the recent Holodeck batch is a psych burner from Sungod. The duo lays waste to acoustic and electric guitars, drums, a Moog Opus 3, a SCI Six-Track, piano and a tape machine. Needless to say things get pretty epic. In a lot of ways this a divergence from the previous Holodeck sounds but presence of analog synths and repetitive (sequenced?) grooves keeps this psychedelic blowout humming right along with the other artists in the Holodeck stable. The proggy psych thing can be tough sell on these ears but this is some good stuff.
I had Chicago's resident electronic music fascist, Brian Labycz, explain to me the difference between techno and house once, I honestly don't remember the difference but I'm pretty sure Dylan C brings the house on this one (I'm really liking my football references today.) Samsara is a faux-double album with the first side's song set labeled "Causes" and the second titled "Conditions." It's house music on cassette tape which is probably the most palatable way to export the genre to someone like me. I've always found my favorite house tracks to be ones that are comforting and cassette tape is the preferred mode of transport as it adds some extra warmth. I think Dylan C is at his best on the 1-2 punch of "Make 'Em Feel It" and "Genuine Vibes." My favorite of the rave-ups, "Fogman," gets goofy with 8-bit arpeggios galore and even slings around a few dub moves. The "Conditions" side takes things into darker territory, with a stronger emphasis on that nighttime feeling. Dylan C really hits his stride on "Time Warriors (ft. VVV)" my favorite track of the side. Wrapping up the album is a remix of an unreleased Troller track (who Dylan C also produces.) This isn't as up-my-alley as the Holodeck tapes I mentioned earlier but there's some nice stuff here--now I have a go-to cassette when I find myself in a house state of mind.
Smokey Emery shifts gears quite a bit on Soundtracks for Invisibility Vol. II: You Take the High Road. After diving into the deep end of synths and programming, I'm toweling off with the vague, found textures of Daniel Hipolito's project. The woozy vibes come via home-spliced, tape machine gnarled loops of samples,  field recordings and live instruments. Hipolito whips up a dense stew of sound; melodies are present but you have to dig through the muck to find 'em. That isn't the case, however, on "The Lights are Big and I'm Driving Home" which amounts to the default single. It's pretty dang catchy with a sauntering jingle-jangle and repetitive organ melody. While Hipolito follows it up with the percussive, thundering "A Face in the Crowd" most of these pieces fit firmly into the "environmental listening" drawer. Nice stuff and a complete 180 from its counterparts in the batch.


Smokey Emery - Quartz [Indian Queen]
Silent Land Time Machine - I am no longer alone with myself and can only artificially recall the scary and beautiful feeling of solitude [Indian Queen]
Indian Queen is a sister label of sorts to Holodeck which explains Smokey Emery's presence. Quartz is a 1/4 hour 7inch in contrast to the more expansive tape I just covered and also sounds even more wasted and blurry if you can believe it. The trio of pieces amount to one big greasy smear, with the vinyl crackle adding an extra textural layer. One of the deepest and darkest 7inches I've ever heard.
Silent Land Time Machine's EP comes to you on a clear 12" 180gram platter in a nice professional jacket. The racket is a colorful hodge-podge of electronic and acoustic, music and non-music. It comes off at times like a more scatterbrained, less classically-oriented Sean McCann. Various bowed strings, reversed and otherwise fucked samples, lots of aural underbrush. The record occasionally locks into a short, potent melody and sets its sights on infinite expansion such as on "Remembering Names" nestling you into the repetition 'til it ends like a blanket ripped away. The following track, "Kissa," oddly enough ends up being a quasi-dance number. Yep, distorted samples rumbling frenetically beneath mournful, floating tones somehow equates to dance music in my mind. Perhaps my favorite tune is the waltzing opener of the second side, deemed "An Own to One's Room." Fragments of piano, accordion and violin, along with murmured vocals, step along in rhythm--drifting endlessly in circles. Holodeck also dropped this on magnetic tape so pick yr poison.


Adoption - Nineteen Ninety [Skrot Up]
AG Davis, Florida's resident (non-politician) crazy person, has a new band. It's called Adoption. Davis and new collaborator A. Kalaczynski lay waste to the rare C5 format, cramming 10 tracks onto the 5 minute cassette. Firing blast beats like they're Sonny Corleone's assassins, this is ostensibly dance floor fodder--a strange, forbidden alchemy of Sissy Spacek and those as-seen-on-TV Ultimate Dance Party compilations. Brutal drum programming and synth goop courtesy of Kalaczynski clash with Davis's distorted vox and signature "editing" for max disorientation. This is that fucked up, factory-chewed crayon in the brand new box of 50. Love the stark piano interlude dudes!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

In Brief #3: Rock & Roll on tape

I've received a few tapes recently that all rock out in various fashions so I'm lumping them all together here. After all they are all united under the umbrella of ROCK. Plus, their all self-released tapes, what's more rock & roll than that?

Railings - Railings [No Label]
I've been listening to this tape by Railings a lot. It's the enigmatic project of an A. Ian Smith. It's far from perfect and is uneven in many ways, but it has something. I don't know what that something is exactly but there's just this certain magic to it. While it's quite rough-hewn in particular areas, at various points Railings transcends its modest bedroom origins
After the mellow sample-fueled intro "The Carter," Smith launches into a strong 80s pop-rock vibe that is morphed into a magic wand and waved at will. In a weird way, this thing sort of sounds like Prince and Bono fronting a post-punk band filtered through the lens of occasionally sampledelic bedroom production value. As someone who pretty much hates Bono, that may sound offputting but it's actually awesome.
Frenetic drum machine is pushed loudly to the forefront while being caressed by soft synths and reverb-laden guitar. Most striking are Smith's vocals, which seem to stretch from the far corner of the room. He really goes for it vocally and manages to pull it off, making it one the tape's most appealing traits. "W.O.R.L.D. (Harry Chapin)" and "Guidonian Hand" illustrate this aesthetic well but the cassette's absolute pinnacle and the track that continues to captivate me without fail is "Plastic Veins-Irrigation Channels." It's a mesmerizing work pop song artistry. With a decidedly limited palette Smith conjures up an alluring work brimming with charismatic hooks. Every time I listen, it's never long enough.
Whether Smith is getting a little jazzy on "Ern'" or downshifting into full-blown power-ballad mode on "Gear Mountain" whilst interspersing instrumental vignettes along the way, it's all a refreshing take on home-recorded cassette culture. I can't say whether you'll like it or not but you're doing yourself a disservice if you don't check it and find out. It seems to me like only a matter of time before people catch on to this guy.
Buy/Check out here

Psychic Blood - Autumn Curses [No Label]
Psychic Blood is a Massachusetts power trio that channel 1980s Sonic Youth with no remorse. Seriously, I'm pretty sure this could be some sort of meta-music art thing. They drop riffs from "Catholic Block" out of nowhere, on a song called "Tuff Love"--I mean there's just no way they aren't trying really hard to sound like 80s SY. They named a song "Daydream." I love Sister, it's a great album so, hey, why not try to sound as awesome as it does, right?
The trio eschews all the hi-falutin' avant-garde moves for the most part and just rock out, retaining the snark, the slashing strings over propulsive drums and dynamic song structures. "Annihilator" knocks out some catchy chord progressions en route to combative noise mongering and slips into the feedback glisten of "Roving Mind." "Here is No Truth" has a "Beauty Lies in the Eye" feel but gets considerably more aggro. And oh yeah, did I mention that they named a fucking song "Daydream." It's actually one of the best ones as it uses Sonic Youth a little more as a jumping off point rather than an end-goal. It develops into a sweet little song with a wordless, cooing refrain. If they fill their tapes with pop hooks like that they really might be getting somewhere.
Basically this isn't original in the least but it doesn't claim to be (and I'd argue it acknowledges it with a wink.) I also can't say I didn't enjoy it. I'd take a good, unabashed Sonic Youth worship/ripoff band over a lot of others. Plus, the band sounds like they really enjoy playing together (and listening to Sonic Youth) and sometimes that's all that really matters in life.
You can buy or download here and make your own judgment.

Weakwick - Weakwick [No Label]
Weakwick is an odd little duo. At first glance, their jams sound like an amalgam of Gay Beast and Lightning Bolt (after multiple glances this still holds fairly true actually.) After all, those are some pretty damn good bands to sound like. However, where Weakwick really hit their stride are tracks such as "Weisenwytch" and "Heiress Error" which use repetition in a weirdly hypnotic fashion. Sometimes it's live, sometimes it sounds electronically aided, but the duo locks into these strange little zones among the treble-laden spikiness. It has shades of latter-day Royal Trux to me. There are a few post-hardcore-esque vocals moves in there once in a while to make sure the listener doesn't get too comfortable. There's a sort of obnoxiousness to the hypnosis that really works. It's intriguing and surprisingly captivating.
On "Minglers," they only push it halfway to song status, deeming the repetitive creaks, buzzes and garbled vocals to be sufficient mood setters. They can flip the switch back and forth going from "Minglers" to the straight-up punk rock of "Fashion Fingers" back to the guitar skronk of ">" They can even pull off melodically driven tracks like "Fluid Alone" or the bleached blues of "The Hits." These aren't ballads mind you, but they are structured with weird spindly riffs.
Another band that comes to mind is Sightings, though Weakwick is far less fierce and intimidating  Each band explores amplified minimalism, breaking rock & roll into a million pieces and duct taping the shards back together. I think this is Weakwick's first tape so I'm definitely intrigued to see what the future holds and how they go on to develop their sound. One of the more interesting "new" noise rock bands I've heard in a while.
I actually have no idea how one would go about procuring a copy of this tape but you can check out their Soundcloud page here

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Music that I listened to last year that I liked the most a.k.a. Best of 2012 (sort of)

http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Guardian/Pix/pictures/2012/12/15/1355587100531/spoty-007.jpg
Everyone on this list deserves a shiny gold medal! High fives all around!
Disclaimer: This post is not exactly a "best of" for records released in 2012. A friend of mine once wisely commented "I don't get why people just do year-end lists for records released that year, they should include any awesome record they listened to a lot that year." I've got to say, the dude's right. If you discover an awesome jazz record from the 40s that you listened to more than anything else that year, it needs to be on yr list. A lot of people include reissues so they're already blurring the line anyway. Because of time constraints, the contents of the list don't go further back than a couple years (I think, I didn't look up release dates or anything)

A number of these I have reviewed on the site in which case I have a said a few words and linked to my original reviews. I also tried to provide links to a place to buy each release (if available.)
(Sorry there are no visual aids on this one, writing the words and dealing with all the links took enough time that I just wanted to get this posted)

Troller - Troller [Holodeck] (CS)
Have I gushed enough about this album yet? Oh my fuck, I just love it so much. The songs, the atmosphere, this is a special work; one I feel fortunate to have heard. I don't know what exactly I've listened to the most this past year but this is very possibly it. I break this brilliant album down in excruciating detail in my original review so I will refrain from rehashing previous thoughts. I will just say that if anything at all intrigues you about this then get it, I know I'm going to be listening to this for years to come. The tape's been long sold out but Holodeck is releasing this as a vinyl long player next Tuesday so expect to see this on my Best of 2013 list as well. BUY THIS

Golden Retriever - Light Cones [Root Strata] (LP)
Matt Carlson's solo LP on DRAFT was quite good but my favorite work by him is, unequivocally, here with Jonathan Sielaff as Golden Retriever. Light Cones is the finest work I've heard from the duo, really on another level. The two minds and their respective instruments, Carlson's modular synth and Sielaff's effected bass clarinet, blend so seamlessly that I almost forget this is being made by people. These sounds just seem to exist, organic forms that spontaneously sprung to life when the rest of the universe did. They soar, brimming with the joy of existence. That is not to say there isn't a strong compositional component at work, Carlson and Sielaff prove themselves to be masters pretty thoroughly with these two pieces. When the exhaustively wondrous title-piece ends, you're only halfway done; the best is yet to come with the yearning, majestic "Observer." This record has the timelessness of a great piece of classical music or film score, I hope future generations have the opportunity to be moved by this gloriously cosmic work. BUY THIS

Son of Salami - Deli Days [Night People] (CS)
A dude recording songs on a tape recorder with a broken erase head (i.e. overdubbing without hearing what's already been recorded) sounds like a gimmicky disaster, right? A person named Joey Pizza Slice who plays under the moniker Son of Salami doesn't necessarily inspire that much confidence either. As things turn out, Mr. Pizza Slice is exactly the right man for the job. He also happens to be a pop genius. The songs on Deli Days are brilliantly conceived, often funny and even touching. The ultra lo-fi production process turns out to be the perfect vehicle for illuminating the qualities of these pieces. I've jammed this so many times and the Salami is still exceedingly potent. Amazingly, this tape is still in print at Night People (is Shawn Reed doing larger editions now? if so THANK YOU!) If you haven't heard this guy yet then buy this immediately. These songs are way too good for you to live without.


Running - Running [Permanent] (LP)
Running/Loose Dudes - Split [Catholic Male] (7")
Running - Asshole Savant [Captcha] (one-sided LP + soundsheet)
I fucking love this Running band. If you don't have their self-titled LP grab it immediately. Same with their split with Loose Dudes if you can find it (though Loose Dudes even outdo Running on that release.) Their most recent release Asshole Savant is also pretty sweet too. The band just fucking rules, I think I've described them stupidly as The Jesus Lizard partying on amphetamines or something. Whatever, just get your hands on their music and crank it up. This is some cathartic, feel-great music. Yes! BUY THIS and BUY THIS

Eli Keszler - Cold Pin [PAN] (LP)
2012 was the year I discovered Eli Keszler. I grabbed a bunch of his stuff over the past year including favorites such as his Oxtirn LP on ESP-Disk and the End Grove double cassette on his own Rel imprint. But of everything I heard, it all boils down to Cold Pin. Keszler is a percussionist (or more accurately a "musician") but he's also a composer and an installation/sound artist. The record seems to capture the many facets of Keszler in one piece of work. This LP finds Keszler leading a small ensemble in a performance with his Cold Pin installation, a complex series of strings mounted in a large round room that are struck by small motors. The installation provides the aural and physical framework in the which the ensemble performs. The recording is fantastically physical and fantastically alive. (By the way, this was a birthday present from my girlfriend; I am a lucky man...) BUY THIS

Purling Hiss - Hissteria [Richie] (LP)
Purling Hiss - Public Service Announcement [Woodsist] (LP)
I was late to the party on this guy, but I'm glad I showed up eventually. I picked up these two LPs at a record store's going-out-of-business sale and I had no idea what an incredibly wise purchase I was making. I've been waiting my whole life to hear a certain record only present in my head and think Hissteria just might be it. The hypnotic guitar-centric repetition of Spacemen 3 delivered with blown-out, boogie-fueled swagger. Awesome, just awesome. Public Service Announcement is also pretty great too and finds Mr. Hiss experimenting with various pop modes including a pleasing reggae-ish bounce on one. "Run from the City" should be retroactively added to all those compilations claiming they're the "definitive classic rock collection." BUY THIS

Evan Parker & John Wiese - C-Section [PAN] (LP)
Evan Parker improvises on saxophone while John Wiese samples and manipulates Parker's sounds in real time. The record sounds as great as that sentence does. Wiese and Parker are at the top of their respective games, having lots of fun I assume and pushing the boundaries of jazz while they're at it. I'm not sure if the LP is still available but the CD version on Second Layer may be. Enjoy this excerpt while you search.

Lab Coast - Pictures on the Wall [Eggy] (CS)
Lab Coast - Editioned Houses [Night People] (CS)
Who woulda thought that avant-percussionist Chris Dadge had been stashing so many great pop songs all these years? This isn't your typical person -making-weird-music-starts-making-normal-music, because if you heard Lab Coast with no knowledge of Dadge you wouldn't have the slightest inkling that one of the main minds behind the band is an avant-garde improviser who heads a label peddling wares by similarly abstract artists. Lab Coast sounds classic but fresh, mining somewhat similar territory as early GBV records, the band generates unassumingly brilliant songs. I dare you to listen to "Really Realize" or "On the Bus" and not fall in love. Lab Coast is a band that, no matter how you're feeling, will always put a smile on your face. Between these two, Pictures on the Wall is more essential because it's a full album while Editioned Houses is more of an EP with a live recording on the flip. Still, they're both must haves in my book. BUY THIS and BUY THIS


Alex Barnett - Push [DRAFT] (CS)
If you haven't heard any of Alex Barnett's music yet, you've been missing out. Dude's stuff hearkens back to the early days of John Carpenter, among others, and rumor is that Alex performs all this stuff live sans sequencers, loops etc.!!  Barnett really knows how to compose a track, there's nothing too fancy about his stuff; he introduces a theme, develops it, brings the track to fruition and moves on to a new idea. Push may be his best tape so definitely do what you can to snag it. I've listened to it countless times... BUY THIS

German Army - Papua Mass [Night People] (CS)
German Army has been one of my favorite discoveries of the past year and this tape is the one of theirs that's closest to my heart. The duo uses their powers of abstract, dubbed-out chillness to make some surprisingly persuasive (and trippy) pop songs (and do a bunch of other weird shit too.) I'm not sure if lethargy has ever been this catchy. Check this band out!


Caethua/Shep and Me - Split [Lighten Up Sounds] (LP)
Man, this record is so good. Lighten Up Sounds restored the release (which originally saw the light via poorly dubbed cassette a few years back) so you can now properly immerse yourself in the blanket of sounds via thick 180gram vinyl. On the first side, Clare Hubbard's genius songsmithery and compositional prowess is on display for all to enjoy , as we wade through a swamp with her, humming along to the nimble arrangements. Shep and Me fill the backside with warped, plaintive folk songs--including one which borrows lyrics from Jim Thompson. I feel like this record came out kind of a while ago now but I just keep listening and it still sounds as fresh and timeless as it ever did. BUY THIS

Man Made Hill - Intercourses [Orange Milk] (CS)
I remember being intrigued by this dude a couple years ago when he put out an LP. Heard some fascinating things about him but I never ended up pulling the trigger, can't remember why.  Fast forward some time and I'm jamming Free Form Freakout (I'm pretty sure that I don't actually have to say David is lightyears ahead of everyone else in the experimental music podcast realm, but he is) and I hear "Glass Trap." Holy shit! What a track! The jam dug its hooks in me immediately (they're still in there! gonna need surgery to get 'em out) and so I checked out Intercourses and, yep, this thing is great from start to finish. And while "Glass Trap" is certainly the pinnacle for me, everything else that surrounds it is stellar. (I don't know if there's anything that grooves harder than "Morbid Rhapsody") Intercourses is rife with experimentation--no question this was made by a demented musical mind--but it's not the way he deconstructs electronic music that makes this great, it's the fact that he can rebuild it so impeccably. Each track is bizarre but, more importantly, each is a brilliantly-designed pop music gem. Orange Milk reissued Sean McCann's classic Open Resolve album too so I need to be more tuned in to their workshop, they've got good taste it seems. BUY THIS

Sheer Agony - Sheer Agony [Fixture] (7")
It's not often that a straight pop record makes its way into the review pile but it's always an exciting proposition when it happens. Sheer Agony did not disappoint either. The Canadian trio has all the classic ingredients: well-written, tightly wound songs; a veritable buffet of hummable riffs and hooks; nods to the pioneers that came before while throwing plenty of curveballs to keep the listeners guessing. 4 songs in a handful of minutes packed with enough ideas for a 12 inch and orchestrated to perfection. BUY THIS
Original Review

Jason Crumer & Joseph Hammer - Show 'em the Door [Accidie] (CD)
This disc was a late entry in the year but man after hearing the opener "Banner Drop" the first time I was already thinking classic. I'm not particularly familiar with either Crumer's or Hammer's work but considering the magnitude of their collaboration here, I really must correct that. It's not completely clear what Hammer and Crumer have at their disposal here, tape loops and electronics seem to figure prominently though. The album witnesses the interplay of samples and possibly live instrumentation with processing. For instance, "Banner Drop" opens with a brass fanfare that is slowly obliterated over the course of the piece. On another, they work over a recording of someone tuning a guitar. The album is immensely tactile, unflappably intense and well-thought out by Crumer and Hammer who I think are entirely improvising here. The results of their collaboration are immediate, intricate and utterly symphonic. More please. I could see at some point in the future a label hailing this a rediscovered classic and reissuing it as some deluxe double-lp set that legions will snap up. Don't be caught on the wrong side of history. BUY THIS

Miami Angels in America - A Public Ranking [Night People] (CS)
Angels in America add the South Beach prefix and make their best album yet. I dig Allergic to Latex quite a bit ("Troy Bellamy" is a classic) but A Public Ranking is stellar from the first looming, massive note of "Go Limp" to the final throb of "On the Beach."  This has the beauty of a burnt out car. The tape is demoralizing in the most exhilarating way. One of coolest bands going right now.  BUY THIS


Matt Carlson/Jason E. Anderson - Synthesator Vol. Three: Dissociative Synthesis [UFO Mongo/Borft] (LP)
Two of the finest synthesizer minds in current operation face off for a 40 minute modular sparring session. This is, to the best of my knowledge, Jason Anderson's only recording of the modular variety. Anderson (who's put out ridiculously good stuff as Spare Death Icon, Harpoon Pole Vault and with Brother Raven) absolutely flips his wig here. My favorite modular workout I've heard in a long time. Carlson's side ain't too shabby either. Everyone's gotten pretty obsessed with synths the past few years which has made it a little more difficult to weed out the masters from the legions of apprentices, but make no mistake these guys fit firmly in the former category. BUY THIS

Dull Knife - Dull Knife [Debacle] (LP)
Dull Knife has been one of my favorite drone crews for years, morphing from a quartet, to trio, to duo and after patiently waiting through various false starts, DK finally found a reliable partner in Debacle to drop a debut LP. Dull Knife were definitely one of my favorite local bands to see play when I was in Seattle, and I think this record marks their finest recorded output. While dense and surprisingly severe at times, the duo never relinquish their trademarked hidden melodicism and mysterious atmosphere that they conjure up so well. The Dull Knife on this record is sharper (no pun intended) and out for blood. I don't mind playing the victim. BUY THIS

Ithi - Within [Land of Decay] (CS)
Number None - Strategies Against Agriculture [Land of Decay] (CS)
This Ithi tape really caught me off guard back in the first half of the year. At once melodic, mesmerizing, prickly and bludgeoning, the cassette is deeply absorbing. Perhaps greatest of all is a nearly unrecognizable re-imagining of Nico's "Roses in the Snow."  Ithi really take you to another world on this one.  Also,"Ithi" is within "within" (mind blown)
Land of Decay rescued this monolith by Number None from unreleased limbo (I think the rumor is that defunct label American Grizzly (remember them?) was supposed to have released this 4 years ago or something) I'm beginning to wonder if this thing was kept under wraps for the purposes of public safety cause it's absolutely CRUSHING. Sure, it'll cave in your skull but what are you, chicken?
The Ithi tape flew off the shelves so to speak and is long sold out, however, there is one copy(!) left of the Number None tape -> BUY THIS
Original Review

Ali Helnwein - Strange Creations [Spring Break Tapes]
How cool is this tape? Lovely chamber vignettes seemingly composed for a film yet to be written. Helnwein covers a lot of territory while maintaining a seamless thru-line over the course of the cassette. Strange Creations reminds me sometimes of Carter Burwell's work, which is a hell of a complement if I do say so. This is a talented guy and an inspired release by Spring Break Tapes, kudos to both!! BUY THIS

Tough Fuzz - Tough Fuzz [Ewe of Now]
Totally sick beats from Portland, OR! I didn't know what to expect from an artist called "Tough Fuzz" but this tape surpassed my wildest expectations/dreams. Despite the name, the tape grooves easy. There's a substantial amount of peculiarity to the sample-laden affair but when it comes down to it, these are just infectious beats pure and simple. People into Dilla or Primo got to check this out. My only regret is I got this later in the year and didn't have it for summertime. Summer 2013 here we come! BUY THIS

Hit Singles
That title is really a misnomer as these are all really good records but each has one specific song that makes me go hogwild. Every release is worth owning if only for the one song and, as far as I'm concerned, the fact they all come from great albums is just a fucking bonus.

Running/Loose Dudes - Split [Catholic Male] (7")
This one's so good it gets mentioned twice. Running's side "Left-Lane Leaning" is great but the true star of the single is Loose Dudes' "Black Preacher." This is what rock & roll is supposed to be. Catchy as all hell, a definite must have. Sold out as far as I can tell, so steal someone else's copy if you have to! What's a little jail time if you get to hear one of the greatest anthems ever? BUY THIS HERE!!

David Kenneth Nance - Let's Argue [Unread Records] (CS)
Oh man, the first time "Leather in the Box" rained terror down on my speakers I was in heaven. Some sort of unholy Lou Reed/Ben Wallers amalgam that Nance imbues with own signature vibes. A tour-de-fucking-force. Best S&M song since "Venus in Furs," for sure. BUY THIS


April in the Orange - Mirror Under the Moon [Cae-sur-a] (CS)
Psych folk is a difficult genre to pull off in my opinion and April in the Orange do a hell of a job over the course of this tape. They don't scale greater heights than "Same Old Mystery." A simple, lovely tune that gets under your skin. What a gorgeous piece of work. BUY THIS
Original Review


The Keggs - To Find Out/Girl [Priority Male](7")
Priority Male reissued this unsung classic from 1967 and I, for one, am thankful that they did. I don't have much to say other than just listen. "To Find Out" has to be one of the best songs of the 60s, a brilliant, frenetic classic. A must own. BUY THIS

Horaflora/Bromp Treb - Split [Yeay!] (7")
This split single was a match made in heaven. Abstract weirdo dance party. Horaflora plays lead off hitter and Bromp Treb smacks the fucker out the park with "Readinessmax." Must own for the Bromp Treb track alone. BUY THIS

Arklight - The Beginners [Teflon Beast] (CS)
"Abandoned Mansions," what a great track! Just fucking solid. Could listen to it over and over, and have. NY weirdos Arklight flip the script and turn into a bonafide rock band.  These guys are good at pretty much whatever they try. Don't let that title fool you either, dudes are old pros. BUY THIS

Favorite Labels Over the Past Year
I think the title says it all, no need for an intro...

Holodeck (Austin, TX)
Holodeck is the only rookie that received this obviously distinguished achievement which is saying something. It's hard to start a label and it's even harder to start a label that puts out consistently great shit. I'm sure you've noticed me gushing incessantly about the Troller tape they put out and well, that's not the only keeper they dropped. Survive, Amasa Gana, Lumens and M. Geddes Gengras all dropped exceedingly great tapes. What I love the most? I had never heard of 4 of the 5 artists I mentioned in this paragraph. This Austin, TX imprint seems to be cultivating from a private talent pipeline, which I won't question as long they keep the black gold pumping.

Field Hymns (Portland, OR)
Field Hymns has been pretty much consistently great since its inception. Field Hymns' bread and butter seems to be peppy, electronically fueled grooves (with suitably goofy word play) from house bands Adderall Canyonly and Oxykitten, among a slew of other likeminders. Among the steady current of good time jams, every so often Field Hymns will drop unusual little treasures like Foton's interplanetary, radiophonic adventure Omega, or Susurrus's self-titled drone batholith, or Mattress's grimy and gutsy synth soul on Lonely Souls, or even the hilarious, sardonic acoustic tales of White Glove. If you take the time to dig deeper you will discover that the Field Hymns realm stretches far wider than you thought. Plus the tapes are always dressed to the nines via Dylan McConnell's graphic design work. I've really enjoyed getting to know the label even better this past year. Keep an eye out as Field Hymns always has something fresh brewing.

Peira (Chicago, IL)
I certainly have an analog bias, I freely admit it. Which makes CD label Peira's inclusion pretty meaningful (I've chatted with Peira CEO Brian Labycz, and dude's got legit reasons for going digital FYI) The label's mission seems to be pretty simple: provide well-curated, high quality improvised music editions. Whether acoustic, electric or combo Peira peddles top-notch improv. Every disc I've heard from them is cool as hell and stands apart from other stuff in the same realm. I wrote about Aaron Zarzutzki's and Fred Lonberg-Holm's no-output turntable and cello duels earlier in the year but there's a small stack of other amazing stuff in my possession that I haven't even touched on: the sensational Mythic Birds disc (a band comprised of 3 bass clarinets and a modular synth!) as well as phenomenal discs by the Gregorio, Roebke, Labycz Trio (clarinet/contrabass/modular synth) and The Green Pasture Happiness (a brilliant dual turntable plus electronics trio.) One of the things I most love about Peira's output is the interaction between musicians present in every release. Each release feels like more than a one-off, whether it's true or not, the group of musicians on any given disc feel like they've been playing for years. The last stack of discs I went through, I was flabbergasted how each disc one-upped the one before. I feel Peira is like one of those rock polisher machines, mining the raw, potent improvisatory talent Chicago seems to be teeming with and finishing them into crisp, gleaming gems. I don't know how Labycz does it, but when it comes to esoteric, improvised music there are few sources more substantial or reliable than Peira.

Night People (Iowa City, IA)
Night People landed more releases on the list above than anyone else so it goes without saying that they get a mention here. Everyone knows and loves the label already having put out fantastic stuff through the years (Chris Cooper & Bill Nace, Baronic Wall, Terror Bird LP, FNU Ronnies, the list goes on...) This may have been the most consistently top notch year yet. Keep it rolling Shawn!

Miscellaneous Bonus Section
Here's some other music-related stuff I've enjoyed during the past year.

Chris Riggs's Website
Finally getting a chance to see Chris Riggs play guitar was fucking awesome. Dude's a stone-cold killer. One of my great and actually quite recent discoveries of last year was christophertriggs.com The guy's got like a million hours of material up there for free download (yet I still complain privately that he doesn't put up collaborations or the occasional release from another label) Basically the website's a treasure trove for people into non-idiomatic guitar iterations (me) and plus, Chris gives you insight into his process using actual words (nice!) Hit up the link above and explore for yourself one of the finest guitarists currently in operation.

Streamables
Despite its origins as a place for jackasses to share videos of themselves, Youtube has actually turned into a pretty cool thing that is allowing me to conveniently share a couple of songs that I must have jammed hundreds of times this year. I don't think any of these are that new but they logged tons of minutes on the old listen-o-meter this year so I offer them up for (perhaps) your own listening pleasure:
Akon "Somebody I Used to Know" (crank this in the big headphones!)